By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
There’s supposedly a lot going on in Room 514. Or so we’d like to hope. The subject of interrogation, of course, considering that’s the main construct of this minimalist Israeli drama, earning a Tribeca Film Festival Special Jury Mention for its first-time feature director, Sharon Bar-Ziv. (For those more gender-sensitive than others, Sharon Bar-Ziv is a male.) While we’re on a male/female bent, it’s due to the fact that the interrogator is a female (Asia Naifeld’s Anna), that Room 514 also sees its share of heterosexual flirtation, seduction, sex — and disavowal of same. As well as deceit, manipulation and telephone calls from Anna’s mother. Hold the phone. Did we just say that Anna’s mother calls her during interrogations? And Anna actually answers?
When the first jingle interrupts the proceedings, we assume that this may be some sort of clever ruse, to throw the suspects off guard. But no … Anna just likes to talk to her mommy. And she’s hoping to impress her superiors with her professionalism?
But like a car filled with Palestinians, speeding away from the cruel Israeli soldiers who may or may not have engaged in an unprovoked attack … I’m getting ahead of myself.
Young Israeli military investigator Anna first questions an Israeli soldier (Guy Kapulnik’s Nimrod) when it’s been reported that on the first night of Passover, a Palestinian family had been detained, and the father beaten without reason. Intrigued, particularly when Nimrod suggests that the aggression was carried out by his superior (Udi Persi’s Davidi), Anna summons the arrogant Davidi for questioning as well. When Anna is told to drop the case by her superior and sometime lover (Ohad Hall’s Erez), she refuses.
And that’s that. We get multiple two-character scenes with continual over-the-shoulder shots in the airless Room 514, where the histrionics go on at length; where files are opened, dossiers are studied and papers are read. Perhaps whatever life this piece may have had was drained out due to the fact that the rehearsals lasted six months, followed by a 5-day shoot. Resulting in the fact that when Anna utters a line while grabbing for a cup of coffee, it’s as mannered as if she were on stage, acting in a Noel Coward play.
As for the story’s theme that the lines of conflict are often blurred, with no sharp blacks or whites, this is ground that’s been ground to death. Davidi, in circular logic, keeps returning to the rationale that whatever force he uses, he does it to defend the likes of Anna and her family. What we have here is the fact that Anna “can’t handle the truth.” How hackneyed, how Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup in 1992’s A Few Good Men can we go?
Much is made in the synopsis of the fact that Anna is of Russian origin. This may be lost in translation, but the fact that she’s a woman in a chauvinistic society should suffice. As it stands, the fact that Anna attempts to use her wiles, putting her arm around one suspect, getting close enough to put her tongue down the throat of another, belies her intent to be taken seriously. On a side note, since her stragems aren’t all that successful, it seems that Mata Hari has nothing to fear.
Room 514 is like a throwback to the Golden Age of Television, those mid-twentieth century live teledramas, often filmed in kinescope. But this entertainment is nowhere near as golden — not with its flat acting, hackneyed storyline and direction that is anything but subtle.
We don’t know if the suspects deserve to be interrogated, and we’re unsure if anyone in that car of Palestinians was unjustly abused. But the fact remains that we, the audience, are the ones who end up being tortured for 90 minutes. What did we do? What’s in those papers that sealed our fate?
Maybe Anna’s mother has a clue. Let’s interrogate her.
Rating on a scale of 5 blame games: 1.5
Written and Directed by: Sharon Bar-Ziv
Cast: Asia Naifeld, Guy Kapulnik, Ohad Hall, Udi Persi, Rafi Kalmar
Running Time: 90 minutes